Root­ing for the Blues

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER BASE­BALL

As­cen­sion Col­le­giate prin­ci­pal Neil Kear­ley can be con­sid­ered a unique hockey fan in New­found­land and Labrador. In a prov­ince where al­le­giances tend to side with the Cana­di­ens, Maple Leafs, or some other orig­i­nal six NHL fran­chise, Kear­ley roots for the St. Louis Blues. His fan­dom can be traced back to a spe­cial en­counter with a for­mer Blues player.

As­cen­sion Col­le­giate prin­ci­pal Neil Kear­ley is used to the strange looks or cu­ri­ous glances come the fall when hockey sea­son gets started again.

In a prov­ince where hockey fans are more likely to cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs or Mon­treal Cana­di­ens, Kear­ley pulls for a team you wouldn’t ex­pect — the St. Louis Blues.

“Do I get puz­zled looks? Oh, all the time,” Kear­ley said in con­ver­sa­tion with The Com­pass. “I’ve heard that since I was a fan of the Blues. What the hell are you a fan of the Blues for?

“A lot of times I make the con­nec­tion to Gino Cavallini. I have one of his sticks over at my house ac­tu­ally.”

Yes, Gino Cavallini. The vet­eran of 593 Na­tional Hockey League games — 454 of them with the Blues — led the Bay Roberts res­i­dent to cheer a team on the out­skirts of Canada’s hockey pe­riph­ery.

Not Brett Hull, Adam Oates or Doug Gil­mour. They rank amongst his favourites. Along with Gary Younger, Bernie Fed­erko and Jon David­son.

But, they didn’t make him a diehard fan. So, why not? To find the an­swer to that ques­tion you have to start with the ad­vent of free agency.

“It wasn’t like when I was a Bru­ins fan as a kid in the 70s. I know who was on that team year-in and year-out,” said Kear­ley. “A new player would shift or you’d trade a player, but you knew who was on the Bos­ton Bru­ins. That started to fade away in the late 80s with free agency.

“You start drift­ing away from the team.”

His al­le­giances were shift­ing dur­ing a road trip to Bos­ton with the Royal New­found­land Con­stab­u­lary in the early 1990s. Kear­ley was at the Bos­ton Gar­den March 7, 1991 where the Bru­ins were play­ing the Blues.

Gino and his brother Paul Cavallini were suit­ing up for St. Louis and they were re­lated to a friend of the fu­ture prin­ci­pal through mar­riage.

“I like the blues mu­sic and I had al­ways like the Blues team,” said Kear­ley. “There was a player named Gary Younger, the iron­man of the NHL at the time … they were a strug­gling team but I re­mem­ber lik­ing the logo and they had the iron­man.”

Af­ter the Blues game, Gino took Kear­ley and his friend out on the town. It was his 400th NHL game and he’d qual­i­fied for his pen­sion.

“And, then I made a con­nec­tion to the team. Back in the day, there weren’t a lot of con­nec­tions in New­found­land where you say, ‘I know so and so.’ Some­body you have spent an af­ter­noon or a cou­ple of days on the week­end in­ter­act­ing with. There was this hu­man con­nec­tion. I said, ‘That’s it, I’m a St. Louis Blues fan.’”

A clas­sic uni­form

An­other as­pect of the Blues makeup that drew Kear­ley to the team were their uni­forms. Known as one of the classier looks in hockey, the St. Louis look in­cor­po­rates a smooth mix of gold, white and blue.

From 1995-1998, the team added in a splash of red. It didn’t sit well with Kear­ley.

“I love the Blues uni­form and I love what they did with them,” he said. “Of course, when you were cheer­ing for them in the mid-90s and they threw that red stripe or slash in there, that sucked.

“Their uni­form now is very close to what it was when I was grow­ing up.”

PHOTO BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER/THE COM­PASS

As­cen­sion Col­le­giate prin­ci­pal Neil Kear­ley wears his St. Louis Blues jersey proudly. It’s the No. 22 of David Backes.

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